GSK invests big in AI for faster, cheaper production of drugs

Posted: 3 July 2017 | By Charlie Moloney

GlaxoSmithKline Headquarters, Brentford, London

Pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has announced that they are making major investments to the tune of $43 (£33) million in artificial intelligence (AI), which many expect to revolutionise the way new medicines are discovered, as reported by Reuters yesterday.

The hope is that machine learning (ML) systems combined with big data will be able to make predictions about how certain molecules will behave and whether they will make useful drugs, which will save time on testing, and the cost of research and development.

GSK will collaborate with Exscientia, a company based in Dundee, Scotland, who claim to be “at the forefront of AI-driven drug discovery and design”, and “the first company to automate drug design”.

Andrew Hopkins, Exscientia CEO, said, “Applying our approach to client discovery projects has already delivered candidate-quality molecules in roughly one-quarter of the time, and at one-quarter of the cost of traditional approaches”.

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry state that, “typically it costs £1.15 billion and takes 12 years to research and develop a new medicine. Furthermore, only one-third of medicines developed end up covering their research and development costs”.

“The Exscientia AI system actively learns from the preceding experimental results and rapidly evolves compounds towards the desired candidate criteria”, according to a blog post on the company’s website.

“It’s still to be proven, but we definitely think we should do the experiment,” said John Baldoni, GSK’s head of platform technology and science, who has also begun hiring a crop of staff with expertise in data handling and computing.

The ambitious target set by GSK is to reduce the time it takes between identifying a disease and finding a molecule which can tackle it from the current average of 5.5 years to just one year by using AI.

Other pharma companies partnered with Exscientia are Evotec (immuno-oncology), Sanofi (metabolic disease), Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma, and Sunovion Pharmaceuticals (central nervous system).



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